Three of the mediation world’s leading bloggers, Diane Levine, Geoff Sharp and Victoria Pynchon, not necessarily great fans of mediator certification, interviewed (think “grilled”) Mediate.com CEO, Jim Melamed, on the new Mediate.com Certification Program.

Here is the interview:

Question: How will Mediate.com's certification program work?

The Mediate.com certification program allows interested mediators to have their training, experience and professional information reviewed to see if they meet the stated Mediate.com certification standards. A critical component of the Mediate.com program is that we require all this submitted information to be transparently provided to the public. So, we don’t just review the qualifying information, we make everything we review publicly available. Needless to say, confidential information is neither requested nor disclosed.

Question: What are the benefits for the public? For the profession?

The primary benefits to the public include motivating mediators to provide comprehensive information conveniently online; having this information systematically presented to the largest possible audience; and Mediate.com offering the value-add service of taking a close look at the mediator’s provided information to ensure that it is comprehensive, congruent and satisfies the stated certification standards. Presumably, the Mediate.com Certification Program will be one of a number of factors helping people to make mediator selection decisions. For good reason, this program will elevate the confidence of many mediator selection decisions.

Still, let’s be clear, one does not need to be a Mediate.com Certified Mediator to mediate. For example, we have over 3,000 mediators in our directory and only about 500 are seemingly qualified or even apply for Mediate.com Certification. We believe in all cases that the right mediator for a particular situation is the one that participants want.

The benefits to the profession are: making it abundantly clear what it is that distinguishes mediation and insisting on these qualities; elevating standards for mediator information disclosure; providing a path for mediator development not based upon profession of origin nor advanced degrees; and, in the Internet age, satisfying consumer expectations in terms of transparency and disclosure. Mediate.com seeks to respond to these elevated information expectations.

Question: On what basis does the proposed certification rest?

Perhaps the greatest rationale for Mediate.com acting is that we believe acting is better than not acting.

For decades, the mediation field has, as a matter of policy, committed itself to “skills based assessment” and, later, to a “paper and pencil test,” none of which has yet been effectively developed or implemented. This is in spite of nearly two decades and millions of dollars of grant money being applied to these issues. The cost of this development and deployment of a true skills-based system would be enormous, if possible at all (we really do not know what makes an effective mediator in each practice area); so costly by my estimate that it is simply not going to happen, at least not for “all mediation,” over the next years.

The world of mediation is also breaking into niche mediation industries, each with its own culture and practice expectations. This is both good and challenging from a quality assurance perspective. For example, the behavior and skills that will be effective for a commercial mediator in a law firm conference room may be very different from the behavior and skills that will be effective in resolving a gang dispute, custody battle or workplace departmental battle. Still, we also simultaneously think that there is something to say for a system that brings all mediation and mediators together, if only to protect the good name of “mediation.”

We are thus emphasizing these qualities to the consuming public:

·         Participation in mediation negotiations is voluntary

·         Participants have complete decision-making power

·         The mediator is to be impartial between the participants

·         Mediation communications are confidential unless understood otherwise

·         Mediation allows for optimized solutions

·         Mediation does not preclude any other process

·         If participants do not reach agreement in mediation, their legal rights should not be prejudiced.

Now, to some, all of this is “obvious.” And we say, “of course.” But I will suggest that many state and federal agencies and court systems do not necessarily see things this way. They are far more interested in disputes being resolved and dockets cleared than in protecting the mediation process or in empowering participants to be at their best.

The world has also changed. Importantly, the Internet is now available as a source for the immediate delivery of unlimited information and comprehensive disclosure. In the context of empowering consumers and participants to “self-determine,” we think it is worthwhile to reward (with our mediation certification) those mediators that demonstrate substantial training, experience, clear commitment, and comprehensive information disclosure and transparency.

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